Friday, July 26, 2013

Basement Treasures

We've shown a couple of pictures on Facebook of the two dumpsters worth of stuff we took out of the basement. As we write this a third dumpster is being loaded with the last of the junk. The untold story is that in addition to the forty-two cubic yards of trash we removed from the basement, there is also a LOT of scrap metal that is being recycled. And mud; lots of mud. Or maybe muck is a better word.

The muck is made from the remnants of things that someone once thought important enough to keep. There were several pieces of furniture that had long since rotted and who knows how many cardboard boxes that contained who knows what for who knows how long. All of it basically just rotted away into muck. This muck clogged drain lines, which meant that more water collected in the basement, which helped to rot more stuff. It would have been an interesting intervention opportunity for a hoarder's family - someone could have locked their hoarding relative in the basement and forced them to face the reality and the folly of collecting so much junk.

We're happy to say that that opportunity, though, has now passed. The basement is nearly empty and actually starting to dry out. We are really looking forward to the day that we can call it "a dusty old basement."

There were a few treasures that we were able to save. Here are a few photos of some of them.

These are some of the first items we recovered. The old pharmaceutical bottles will find a place in the decor of the flats, as will the funky US map and the barber shop sign. Does anyone know anything about Dave's Barber Shop?

A police cruiser spotlight and a fan for an Airstream trailer are interesting, but we can't think of a place for them in the design scheme.

Unfortunately the 20 gallon stone jar met with an untimely end when the rusty metal handle broke while it was being cleaned. 

We've written before about the old Victrola. All that is really left of it is the turntable, stylus arm and the console lid. We hope to be able to display it somehow because it really looks cool.

The mowing scythe is an item that is causing some controversy: Shawn loves it because it reminds him of his grandfather and he would love for it to hold a prominent place in the Flats. Amy, however, doesn't see the large implement that is sometimes associated with the Grim Reaper as something that will fit into her design scheme.

The 48 star US flag smells of mildew and is very tattered, but is too cool not to be used somewhere in the decor of the Flats; maybe under glass?

How funky is the stage light? It is a definite candidate for re-wiring and retrofitting with an energy efficient bulb. Look for it to be included in the finished Lafayette Flats.

OK, now this is the most bizarre find of all: A half-full 55 gallon barrel of Anhydrous Lanolin. We have no idea why it is there, but from all appearances it has been sitting in the same spot for at least 40 years.

There are still a few things that are being cleaned up. We'll post some pictures once they are.  

Monday, July 22, 2013


Carl McLaughlin, the official historian of Lafayette Flats, with
owners Shawn and Amy.
Editor's Note: Amy's dad, Carl McLaughlin, is the official historian of Lafayette Flats. While Carl has a Master's Degree in Counseling, his Bachelor's Degree is in History from West Virginia Institute of Technology. He recently retired from a career in the Juvenile Probation Department of Kanawha County. Since his retirement he has spent untold hours online and traveling to libraries and courthouses researching genealogy - not just his own but that of people he finds interesting. Since our project began, he has been looking into the history of our building and the people who were involved with its earliest days. As a long time member of the Kanawha Trail Club, Carl has led many hikes in the New River Gorge and has always been intrigued by the history of the region. His prior knowledge of the area has helped him connect some of the dots in the history of our building. This is his first in a series of blog posts about our building's history:

The earliest known photo of the Malcolm Building circa 1910
The Malcolm Building or Lafayette Flats, as we know it today, “will be erected in what promises to be the finest business block in town,” according to The Fayette Journal of August 25, 1904.

The article, which was headed “Stone Building,” explained how Dr. Michael McAlhaney Malcolm had “let the contract” for about $6,000 to house the new Bank of Fayette. Dr. Malcolm was a prominent physician and had accumulated considerable finances.

Antonio Gros Janutolo, an Italian immigrant of Kay Moor in Fayette County, accepted the contract to construct this stone building. At the time of this article, Antonio was already quarrying stone for it. The Janutolo family line, as well as many other Italian families, would play a major role in Fayetteville construction for many decades.

Before the building or the financing, the organization of the Bank of Fayette had to occur. This organization took place on July 21,1904. Capital stock was issued for $25,000 at $100 per share. The first officers were President L.W. Nuttall and Vice President Dr. M. M. Malcolm.

Joseph Tyler Grose was elected cashier. Interestingly, Grose owned 246 of the total 250 shares of capital stock for a total value of $24,600. Grose would play several key roles in the life of the bank and was its president at its closing on May 27, 1932.

More on each of these key individuals will be forthcoming. The stonemason, Antonio Gros Janutolo, will be featured next.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Exciting Art News

The most amazing thing happened; a truly extraordinary act of benevolence that will benefit many

We were approached by a friend who is an artist, an art professor and collector of local West Virginia art. He told us that he has far too much art in his collection to display in his home and he is loathe to let it collect dust in storage or in the basement of a museum where it would only be brought out every once in a while. He told us that he has been reading about Lafayette Flats and our desire to cover the walls with local, original art and that he would like to helps us accomplish that goal. He has pieces by many, many West Virginia artists that - in his words - are far too important not to be on display somewhere.

As it turns out - to our absolute astonishment - that somewhere will be Lafayette Flats.

As we write this, our benefactor is busily going through his collection and compiling pieces that he thinks will suit our needs. He has already delivered some wonderful paintings and tells us that there are many more coming soon.

Words cannot express our appeciation. We are at once humbled and exhilerated by his generosity.

Soon we will be able to share more details about this exciting development! Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Floor Plan

Since so many folks have been asking us about the layout of the flats, we thought it would be good to write a little about it and provide a graphic illustration that shows the basic plan.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a picture of the second floor plan:

As we've written before, we wanted to preserve as much of the building's original interior walls and trim as possible. This layout requires no removal of walls. We will be adding one wall (to create the mechanical room), moving one door and eliminating one door.

The third floor is very similar to the second, however both of the third floor flats will have the benefit of a little extra space in the form of a mud room/entryway.

Don't take this plan too literally; This graphic is from our plan's first draft and it lacks detailed kitchen and bath plans and some dimensions hadn't been field verified.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

An alternative narrative...

When we developed the business plan for Lafayette Flats, in and amongst all of the financial and
marketing information, we included this philosophical element:

W.Va. State Seal by Ian Bode
"West Virginians are a hospitable people who are fiercely proud of their history and culture. Lafayette Flats will communicate these traits through its business practices: Extremely hospitable and eager to provide our guests an alternative narrative about the culture of West Virginia through the art and architecture chosen for the space."

We both love our home state. We are also very aware of the negative stereotypes that often get ascribed to our state and its people. It is one of our business goals to introduce Lafayette Flats visitors to a new way to think about West Virginia. We want to surprise our guests with the real West Virginia and nothing will make us happier than if they walk away with an impression that is different from the prejudices they might have held when they arrived. Here are some of the ways we plan to do that:
  • Design - The interior design of the flats will surprise people. Each one will be different, and each one will be unique. We've struggled to come up with adjectives that describe our design schemes but nothing seems to fit. Words like "Chic," "Hip," "Eclectic," and "Funky" are in the right directions, but all of those words fail to deliver the real image of the look that the spaces will have. One thing is certain, it will not be what some people will be expecting to find in West Virginia.
  • Art - We are art lovers and while each of us have our style preferences, we both love and appreciate local, original art. We think that West Virginia has as many extraordinary artists as any place we have seen in our travels. There's no limit to the different styles, media and subjects that our local artists use, and we want to make sure that people from outside West Virginia get to experience this diversity up close and personal when staying at Lafayette Flats.
  • "The History of West Virginia" by Gary Bowling
  • Literature - Our guests will find a supply of good books in their flat that will feature the true spirit of West Virginia. Some will be novels set in the state or written by West Virginian authors. Some will be non-fiction stories that take place in the state or about subjects that concern its residents. Some might be written by people who are only passing through. The common thread will be that they tell the story of the West Virginia that we all know and love, and not the same old tired, worn out fairy tale about the place that time forgot - the Hollywood version of West Virginia.
We think that Fayetteville itself helps to illustrate this new narrative. Here is a place that through the years has attracted the attention of many people with its amazing beauty and rich supply of natural resources. But instead of repeating our state's history, where those resources are scooped up and taken away on a train, the New River Gorge has been able to remain beautifully intact and now welcomes people to come here to enjoy it.

We are happy to be a part of this welcoming.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Each and every time we walk up the stairs to the upper floors of Lafayatte Flats we are struck by the beauty of the doors and the trim that surrounds them. The beautiful old wood that has been (mostly) lovingly cared for gives off a rich warmth that you just can't duplicate with products available today. The beautiful transoms over the hallway doors and the luxurious wide and thick hardwood casings are relics of a bygone era where quality counted and buildings were built to last.

This past weekend Shawn spent a great deal of time carefully removing some of the doors. If the door frames were not made of such substantial materials this task would be far more difficult, but as it is most of them were fairly simple to remove. Getting the first piece of casing loose without marring the finish was difficult, but after they were loosened the plinths, mullions and crossheads came off easily enough. With the trim removed you could then see the that the frames had been carefully shimmed and stood perfectly square in their openings. Cut the nails with a reciprocating saw and voila, the entire frame popped neatly out.

So, why exactly are we removing these doors for which we profess such affection? They have to be moved to accommodate the Fire Marshal. You see our fire exit plan is based on the idea that if a fire were to break out in one of the flats, that the occupants of the other flats would be able to escape through the hallways and be protected from the fire within. The original doors and transoms would allow the fire to escape the confines of the flat and spread into the hallway, so we must install fire rated doors in these areas.
When we first realized that we would be required to replace these doors we were crestfallen, because as we said before, they are one of the primary aesthetic points of the building's interior. But then we developed a plan where we could preserve the transoms and trim by removing them and flipping them around, and then using LED lighting behind the transom glass to illuminate the hallway. From the hallway, it will still look like outside light is coming through the transom but on the other side of the door, the transom will be covered with fireproof material. Even though we will be losing the rich wood look of the doors themselves, we will be preserving the trim and original configuration of the doors and transoms.

Once we get one of the units installed we'll post some photos to better illustrate the process and the finished product.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Basement Flotsam"

The Beckley Register-Herald ran a nice story about Lafayette Flats in Sunday's paper (read it online here). In the article, reporter C.V. Moore perfectly captured this week's major task in one phrase: "Clearing out decades of basement flotsam."

On Monday, it took five people all day to remove most of the flotsam to a giant dumpster parked in front of the building. It's hard to believe that a 30' x 60' basement could hold enough junk to fill up a 30 cubic yard dumpster, but it did - and there will be a second dumpster soon to finish it off. For now, though, we have cleared enough space for the plumbers to work - which is our immediate concern.

When we bought the building we knew that the basement had a water problem because of the ever-present 1-2 inches of water and muck. But since it was so jam-packed with stuff, we couldn't be certain where the water was incurring and whether the drain system was working or not. With most of the stuff removed now, we are happy to report that the drain system is working well and we feel certain that we'll have a nice dry basement soon where Lafayette Flats guests can safely and securely store their bikes, paddle boards and small kayaks  during their stay.

Many people have asked what we found in the basement and if there were any treasures hidden there. There were a few treasures, but sadly most of the valuable and historic items had long since rotted past the point of salvage. The most heartbreaking example was a console Victrola record player that would have been a stunning addition to one of the flats had its wooden cabinet not been almost completely destroyed by rot.

Most of what was in the basement, though, had no value and frankly made us wonder why anyone ever kept it; like the dozens of small scrap pieces of carpet tied up into small rolls. There were hundreds of small boxes filled with of pipe fittings, nails, screws, switches and other hardware items. Bags and bags of petrified cement products, partial bags of sand and decorative stone, buckets of asphalt roofing tar and lots and lots of metal pipe scraps. Several large upholstered furniture items had turned into piles of rotted wood and fabric; some of them so far gone that they had to shoveled into trash cans to be carried out to the dumpster.

We did salvage a few cool items that we hope to use in the decor upstairs. More about those another time.

We're glad this part of the project is mostly behind us. We're also extremely thankful to Porter and Megan who came to our aid when our temporary labor agency dropped the ball. We would not have gotten this monumental task done without these two extraordinarily hardworking and capable people. "Thank you" is not enough; if you know these two, give them a hug for us the next time you see them.